I’m usually not one to try to get excited or eager about a book that was announced with only a small premise and a teaser image. It helps me avoid building up some idea or expectation about a book before I get to read it. However, Monstress was the exception to that rule when it was first announced during the Image Expo. Something about the premise just stood out to me and got me excited. We can finally see if the wait has been worth it. Is it good?
Monstress #1 (Image Comics)
Oh… how to explain this story… Well the solicitation for the first issue goes like this:
Steampunk meets Kaiju in this original fantasy epic for mature readers, as young Maika risks everything to control her psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, placing her in the center of a devastating war between human and otherworldly.
And frankly, that’s the extremely simplified version of the first issue’s story.
The first issue of Monstress is a monster of an issue (pun may have been intended. It’s your call). Clocking in at over 60 pages, it has the room to tell a lot of story right off the bat. It gets to introduce and explain what the main character is all about, some of the backstory and background for this universe, and a possible idea of what this story will be. That gives the audience plenty to chew on with all of its talks of magic, war, racism, and revenge throughout the ride. It allows just enough for someone to get a good idea of what to expect from the story with everything that it throws at the audience.
Marjorie Liu’s writing is quite good in areas of this book as well. Characterization is fairly strong across the board for the main players, from Maika to the even the main villains Sophia and Atena. The characterization is good with making these characters feel human in the way they talk or act in the scenes and flashbacks. It feels natural how they talk amongst themselves and behave (with some glaring exceptions when the comic suddenly has a character start monologuing) and sympathize with them at times.
The pace of the book hits the right notes. It’s slow in some ways due to amount of dialogue going on in the book, but it’s also quick in that it knows how to keep the story constantly going (there’s almost a full story arc in one issue). This allows for the story to never feel boring and to hopefully stay intriguing. You always want to know more after seeing a scene happen (maybe with more backstory about this war, the relationship with Maika and her sister, etc.) due how it is paced and plotted.
Please. I already knew my cat was treacherous and out to get me considering how many times he trips me.
The strongest aspect of this entire issue is easily the artwork. Sana Takeda’s is an artist I’m not familiar with, but she does a stellar job here. Every panel is eloquently detailed, from the dirtiest, dankest dungeons to the extravagant and colorful rooms in which witches live and work. The colors are faded and light, but still are luscious in how they bring the scenes and people to life. The characters are detailed and drawn efficiently and while some share similar hairstyles, no two people look alike in the book. While the designs of the some of the magic and monsters are a bit typical (though some of the more massive beasts are amazing), the images and sights are still drawn exceptionally. The layouts and panels are laid out efficiently are easy to follow, though maybe one or two pages cut awkwardly. Besides that, this is an absolutely gorgeous looking book from start to finish.
As great of a book as it is, it’s held back by various little problems. For one, as good as the comic is about its pacing and even its dialogue, it still stumbles when it comes to explaining things. The characters really do go on with some long-winded monologues that sound so forced and awkward, especially contrasted against the more normal sounding conservations (it’s particularly bad towards the end), and it slows the pace down quite significantly. There’s a villain that feels completely out of place in the story with how overly evil, vicious, and one-dimensional she comes across (the rest of the villains feel like they have some personality and character to them). Speaking of the villains, the three main villains are all apparently axed off by the end of the issue and it feels a little wasteful and abrupt, since Liu did a pretty decent job giving them character and depth.
The only other problem is the book feels a bit too over ambitious at times. It does a lot of things in one issue, and gives the audience just a small taste, but it rarely takes the time to explain the concepts that are directly important to what is happening in the issue. It feels like it spread itself a tad too thin and it may have benefited from one of those glossary pages for extra content and backstory that you see in some Image series.
No, you were eating what the dead boy had previously eaten and digested. Major difference!
Is It Good?
Monstress #1 is a comic with a lot to offer in terms of story, world, and character. It can try to do a little too much at times, but the quality of the writing and characters are easily strong enough to elevate the comic past that.